Airbag Light: Why is It On? – The Common Reasons

modern car dashboard with indicators like airbag light

Image from Pixabay

Today’s vehicles have more features than ever before. With the ever-growing technology in the automotive industry, most of these systems are controlled electronically. Gone are the days when there were just three or four warning lights on our driver’s display. There are indicators for everything from a loose gas cap to low washer fluid. With so many alerts on the display, it can be tempting to ignore them and keep on driving. However, when it comes to the airbag light, we cannot stress how important it is to deal with it.

What Is a Car Airbag Light?

deployed airbags

Image from Pixabay

The vehicle airbag light is the primary indicator for the Supplemental Restraint System or SRS. It is usually displayed with the SRS letters or an illustration of a person sitting in a car seat with the airbag deploying. As with all indicator lights, it comes on for a few moments every time the vehicle is started. This happens so the computer can check the system and make sure everything is in working order. If the light stays on though, it means there is something going on with the SRS system that needs to be looked into further.

How Does the Airbag Light Work?

How Does the Airbag System Work?

Is It Safe to Drive with the Airbag Light On?

What Is the Purpose of the Car Airbag Light?

airbag light and fuel gauge

Image by Jellidonut from Pixabay

The primary function of the airbag light is to let the driver know there is some kind of issue with the airbag system. This could be any number of things from an electrical problem to a sensor issue, to airbags that have been deployed previously and not properly reset. In this section, we will take a deeper look into a few possible causes of the airbag light being on.

Seat Belt Sensor

Low Car Battery

Damaged or Broken Clock Spring

Water or Flood Damage

Sensor or Code Error

What Should I Do If the Airbag Light Is On in My Car?

Our first suggestion would be that you take your vehicle to a certified mechanic as soon as possible. This could be any certified local auto repair shop or the dealership. We strongly recommend that you do not continue driving the vehicle as if nothing is wrong. The fact that the airbag light is on indicates there is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately as the airbags may not deploy in the event of an accident. For those who prefer to work on their cars themselves, here are a few troubleshooting options you can try:

Replace the Clock Spring

As we mentioned before, the clock spring is what maintains the connection between the vehicle’s electrical and airbag systems. It does this by coiling in and out as the steering wheel turns. After years of use and tens of thousands of wheel rotations, the thin circuit bands may become brittle and worn, causing an intermittent connection, or eventually even no connection at all. This is common problem in older vehicles.

Charge or Replace the Battery

As batteries wear down, sometimes they hang on a while before going completely dead. Running the car or driving it will recharge it enough to where it continues to function adequately until it finally goes dead. If this is the case, it may have already caused an issue with the airbag sensor, and until you replace the battery, the airbag light will probably continue to stay on.

Check the Passenger Occupancy Sensor

Another possible cause for the airbag warning light may be the wiring or connection of the passenger occupancy sensor. Given how passenger seats are usually adjusted more often than driver’s seats, the back-and-forth repetition over time can stretch or fray the wires, and sometimes they can get detached altogether.

To check if this system is working properly, look for the “passenger airbag off” light when the seat is unoccupied, and look for that light to disappear when the seat is occupied. If the indicator is not functioning properly, check the harness and wiring under the seat for possible damage. If you do find an issue with the wiring, universal replacement kits can be purchased at nearly any auto parts store.

Clear the ECU

If you have throughly inspected every possible cause for the airbag light to be on and have concluded that there are no issues that need resolving, you can remove the airbag electronic control unit, or ECU, and send it to a company that will clear it for you. Still, we highly recommend letting a qualified mechanic give your system the once-over before taking this step, because this is something you want to make absolutely sure you are not wrong about. It may save your life.


black convertible coupe parked near high-rise building

Image via

Vehicles are getting more technologically advanced every year. We already have cars that can self-parallel park, brake on their own when sensing an impending collision, and warn us when other vehicles or objects are getting too close. Technology can make our drive so much more easy and comfortable, but only if we pay attention to it. Ignoring important indicators such as “check engine” and “low tire pressure” are surely dangerous enough. But when you ignore your airbag lights, you are literally playing Russian roulette with your life and the lives of the passengers traveling with you.

So please, don’t wait. Have your car checked out by your local mechanic today. We hope you will never need those airbags, but if you do, you will be glad they were there.